A first grader named Leonard Taylor caught my eye this morning not so much because of how he moved, but because he did not move at all. That’s odd, I thought. Leonard never stops moving. Instead, he sat still on his slide-top lookout, bold in his red shirt and big Ben Davis trousers, and motionless. I observed him for a minute, expecting him to slide down. He did not slide.
Judging from the direction of his eyes, I could see he had become hypnotized by the approach of his former kindergarten teacher, Ms. Sanchez, who had entered the playground through the kinder yard gate. The closer she came, the more his little body floated as if in a dream. Then, sixty slow seconds later, there stood Ms. Sanchez looking up from below at her drifty-eyed former student:
“Hello up there Leonard!”
“Hi Ms. Sanchez. Do you remember me?”
“Of course I do, sugar! I could never forget you! You be careful! I don’t want to see you fall!”
This visit marked her first return to the site since her retirement last year. Observing their exchange took me in and opened me up to the connection these two must have had the year before. Nothing about this moment should have stood out. But, in witnessing them both, I felt that sweet spot that each had set aside for the other.
I had been to Leonard’s housing unit across the street several times over the past two years. A house of shouts and tears. Some days, the boy came in so rattled that he couldn’t stop shaking. Ms. Sanchez would pile up blankets and a bean bag chair in a place in the corner she called the Big Cozy. The boy could spend an entire school day working from there. No matter how he showed up, she drew him out like a charmer of old, using just the right medicines at just the right time. Quiet cures offered without hesitation.
Some of life’s sweetest sugar comes from finding ones we can trust. When a child finds that connection, he will let down his guard. From there, his heart can touch another and in turn be touched. He may remember very few details about time or place. But he will not forget the feeling in these moments. Cradled, seen, safe.
An African proverb tells how, at birth, a child enters the world with his hands closed tight so that he won’t lose his gifts. Then, he has to learn to open those hands to release what he has been given. Trust is the secret ingredient in that release.
This boy knew better than to unwrap his fingers for just anybody. He waited for that one who would take him as-is without letting him fall. How lucky to find a teacher with both hands open. How rare to find one who could see what the boy kept in his small clenched hands.
When love aligns with opportunity, separation ceases. Opposites merge in realms where eager dreams roll on vast, blue-green fields. A child still dwells in primordial places such as these — sweet spots of black earth — come-together ground that stands sacred, apart from time. Places forsaken by big folk long ago.